Excessive sleepiness in shift work disorder: a narrative review of the last 5 years

  • Mariantonietta Savarese
  • Maria Caterina Di PerriEmail author
Psychiatrics • Review
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Excessive Daytime Sleepiness



Shift work sleep disorder (SWSD), also known as shift work disorder (SWD), is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder characterized by insomnia and/or excessive sleepiness, associated with a recurring work schedule that overlaps the usual time designated for sleeping.


This article aims to provide a narrative review of the pharmacological trials conducted on SWD in the last 5 years, to better address safety and health issues inherent to this disorder.


An electronic literature search was conducted using PubMed. All eligible randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and cross-over RCTs with employees undertaking shift work (including night shifts) were considered, yielding three articles.


All three studies showed the efficacy of armodafinil in improving subjective and objective sleepiness, clinical conditions, and global functioning regardless of shift duration. Both performance and driving simulator performance tests administered during the night shift bore better results following armodafinil administration than after placebo. However, armodafinil only reduced subjective disability in individuals working more than 9 h; furthermore, even after armodafinil, alertness was reduced but not normalized.


These studies underscore the importance of preventing and/or minimizing disturbances due to shift work. This may be achieved through various strategies, such as the employer’s commitment to adopt ergonomic criteria in shift design and to implement work-environment interventions like controlled bright light. Health personnel is of pivotal importance to detect potential factors of intolerance to shift work or early symptoms of SWD. Additional and improved studies are needed to further evaluate the effectiveness and safety of both pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions.


Shift work disorder; excessive sleepiness Insomnia Performance Alertness Stimulants Armodafinil 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.“FM Puca” Neurology UnitUniversity Hospital Consortium Corporation Polyclinic of BariBariItaly
  2. 2.Center of Sleep Medicine, UOSD of Neurophysiopathology and Disorders of Movement, AOU G Martino, Department of Clinical and Experimental MedicineUniversity of MessinaMessinaItaly

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